Preaching Politics from the Pulpit on Left and Right

“Vote your values, not your pocketbook.”

“Vote your principles, not your principal.”

You want to hear something interesting? You see those two statements above? Both are things I have heard said by ministers standing in the pulpit, the first some years ago and the other this past Sunday. The strange part? The first statement was made by the pastor of the evangelical megachurch in which I grew up while the second statement was made by the pastor of the Unitarian Universalist church I have been attending for the last two months. And the two statements are virtually identical.

What does this mean, exactly? I have been puzzling over that ever since Sunday.

For one thing, it suggests that social concerns and economic concerns may be in conflict when considering who to vote for, and that when that happens one should choose social concerns over economic concerns. I actually agree with this idea. I would rather live in a country that was slightly poorer but had freedom for all than a country that was slightly richer but rife with discrimination.

But what does it mean that this is being stated in the pulpit, and in both conservative and progressive churches? The UU church’s statement of principles deals with things like equality and justice and gives the church an obvious progressive political flavor. In contrast, the National Association of Evangelicals offers a statement of faith that unites all evangelicals that is devoid of any discussion of politics. Having progressive politics is for all intents and purposes a requirement for attending a UU church. In contrast, having conservative politics need not automatically be a requirement for attending an evangelical church. And yet it is. Evangelical churches are by and large as dedicated to political conservatism as UU churches are dedicated to political progressivism. They both engage in politics, they just do so from opposite ends of the spectrum.

Evangelical and even Catholic ministers evoke fire and brimstone and the “God is watching” eternal consequences to the soul. In contrast, the UU minister encouraged us to think of the consequences to others – the poor, LGBTQ individuals, the third world where environmental catastrophe hits hardest. While the evangelical minister says “remember that God is in the voting booth with you,” the UU minister told us to imagine ourselves surrounded by the world community as we cast our vote. In other words, the conservative religious approach to politics is God-focused while the progressive religious approach to politics is other-focused. And I find that fascinating.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Andrew G.

    I think the two statements may be only superficially similar – the message actually being understood by the audience might be completely different.

    “Vote for the candidate who claims to be pro-life regardless of how hard he’s going to screw you over on medical expenses and (lack of) welfare”

    “Vote for the candidate who is more likely to pursue policies that benefit the poor even if it means paying a little more in taxes”

    • ScottInOH

      You are correct, and it’s for the reason Libby Anne points out:

      the conservative religious approach to politics is God-focused while the progressive religious approach to politics is other-focused

      In fact, I would argue that this is the (a?) key difference in their approaches to religion itself.

  • wanderer

    Wonder what difference it’s supposed to make if you’re imagining God in the voting booth with you. Is the implication that whoever a person WANTS to vote for (by him/herself) would naturally be an evil choice? How strange.

  • jwall915

    Libby Anne, I am curious to hear your story of deciding to start attending a UU church when you are an atheist. My husband and I are both atheists but he has suggested wanting to maybe start attending a UU church for the socialization and opportunities to help out in social justice issues we care deeply about. But I’m really not sure about it. I understand what he’s saying, but I’m not sure I can sit there week after week praying and singing to what I think is a made-up deity, not to mention one that was used to abuse me so much when I was a kid. How do you reconcile it? Do you reconcile it?

    • Libby Anne

      I’ve been meaning to write about this, but haven’t gotten to it yet. And I’ve yet to decide how long term my attendance and participation will be. It’s more of a trial run than anything else at this point. Anyway, more later! :-)

      • jwall915

        Thanks! I look forward to that post. :)

  • victoria

    One of my best friends and her husband were raised fundy and now are atheists attending a UU church. She mostly does so because if she didn’t, she feels that her parents (who are local) would feel at liberty to push their religion to her kids. With that space being “filled” in the kids’ lives, they lose that justification.

    They’ve been happy there. As she describes it, “It’s a community of people who believe in, at most, one god.”

    I lost my faith after having a child and that is something I’ve struggled with a bit — do I need to have a religious practice at all? For me it’s not something I feel I need, but I do wonder if it would be better for relations with the extended family if I went to the UU church or a liberal Quaker congregation (one that doesn’t require a creed) and send the kiddo to religious ed there.

    • Rosie

      Here in the Midwest, it seems that a lot of closeted pagans attend the UU churches. They may believe in multiple deities (though it’s possible to be agnostic or atheist and pagan too, as the paganism is a focus on ritual practice, not belief).

  • Kaboobie

    I myself have never felt the need, but I know many atheist and agnostic people who attend UU churches. It’s worth pointing out that there is no central hierarchy and each church is different, so if you sample one that is too “religious” for you, keep looking and you may find one that uses no god language at all.

  • learning about mp4 conversions

    I’m confident I have look at this identical type of statement in other places, it needs to be gaining popularity with all the people.